The Zone Diet As a Way of Life

Dr. Sears Blog: Zone Way of Life

The Zone is not some mystical place or some clever marketing term, but a real physiological state in your body where the initiation and resolution of inflammation is constantly balanced for the goal of maintaining wellness. The question is how do you get into the Zone? The answer is your diet. Wellness is like the top of a mountain. There are many pathways to the top. Some are hard, others are easier. I feel the Zone Diet is the easiest and most scientifically valid way to reach that mountain top.

Follow the Four Pillars of the Zone Diet to Maintain Wellness

There are four basic dietary pillars of the Zone Diet.  Each is distinct and follows its own dietary rules. Your goal is to put it all together in a practical diet and maintain it for a lifetime.

1. Restrict calories without hunger or fatigue

Calories do count.  The secret is to consume the least number of calories without developing hunger or fatigue.

Eating more calories than your body requires means those excess calories end up being stored as excess fat. As to why you eat more calories than your body needs is another question. Ultimately it is all about the hormones that your diet generates. Generate the wrong hormones, you will develop a Fat Trap in which incoming excess calories are stored in your fat cells and they can’t get out.  The result is that you are constantly hungry.  I wrote an entire book about this, Toxic Fat, as well as expanding this concept in The Mediterranean Zone(1,2).

The way you avoid developing a Fat Trap is to maintain control of the levels of insulin in both the blood and the brain by your diet. This means you have to prevent the development of insulin resistance, which is ultimately caused by inflammation induced by the diet(3). The usual suspects for excess calories, excess omega-6 fatty acids, excess saturated fat (especially palmitic acid), and disturbances in the ratio of low-fat protein to low-glycemic carbohydrates in any meal is diet-induced inflammation.

How do you know if you are successful? You won’t be hungry or mentally tired for the next five hours after a meal because you are stabilizing blood sugar levels. For most Americans, that goal seems like the impossible dream. What makes it easier to achieve has been the development of PastaRx to enhance such blood sugar control from meal-to-meal.

2. Maintain an appropriate balance of inflammatory and resolution pathways within the body

You need some inflammation, but not too much.  More importantly, you have to be able to turn off the inflammatory process once it’s started. Otherwise, it will begin attacking the rest of the body. This process is called resolution.

The resolution of inflammation requires adequate levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in the blood. The only way to know is to test the blood and specifically your levels of cellular inflammation. If your Cellular Inflammation Score is too high, then you don’t have enough potential resolution capacity to be in the Zone.  Most Americans will require supplementation with refined omega-3 fatty acid concentrates, like OmegaRx, to reach the right balance.

3. Activate your genes with dietary polyphenols for improved wellness

Polyphenols allow you to practice gene therapy in the kitchen assuming you are eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. If not, then the genes that produce antioxidant enzymes, anti-inflammatory proteins, and slow down the aging process will essentially remain silent. On the other hand, supplementation of the diet with refined polyphenol extracts, like MaquiRx, can help you reach the levels of polyphenols in the diet to turn on those genes important for maintaining wellness.

4. Control gut microbe-induced inflammation

There are about 1 trillion species of bacteria on the planet. About 1,000 of them live in our gut. And one of them, Akkermansia muciniphila, appears to be key to our gut health. Akkermansia muciniphila was only discovered in 2004(4), yet it appears to play a central role in controlling gut microbe-induced inflammation(5-8).  You can’t take a capsule of this bacteria because it dies in the presence of oxygen, but you can feed yourself the right nutrition to make it multiply in the gut.  The three dietary items it needs are fermentable fiber, polyphenols, and long chain omega-3 fatty acids. All these are key items in the Zone Diet.

The Zone Diet is life-long nutrition strategy, not a short-term weight-loss diet

We often think of diets as enforced torture to be endured to lose some weight. In reality, the word diet comes from the ancient Greek root meaning “way of life.” Therefore, the Zone Diet is not a weight-loss diet, but a “way of life” to maintain wellness as long as possible.

Nutrition is incredibly complex. There are no easy answers regardless of what you hear from television specials or read in popular diet books. What you need is a credible dietary pathway that is based on strong science and validated by blood testing. That’s the basis of Evidence-based Wellness®.  That is also the promise of the Zone Diet and it’s easier than you think once you master its basic principles.


  1. Sears B. Toxic Fat.  Thomas Nelson.  Nashville, TN (2008).
  2. Sears B. The Mediterranean Zone.  Random House.  New York, NY (2014).
  3. Sears B and Perry M. “The role of fatty acids in insulin resistance.”  Lipids Health Disease 14:121 (2015).
  4. Derrien M. “Akkermansia muciniphila, a human intestinal mucin-degrading bacterium”.  Int J Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology54: 1469–1476 (2004).
  5. Schnneeberger M et al. “Akkermansia muciniphila inversely correlates with the onset of inflammation, altered adipose tissue metabolism and metabolic disorders in mice.”  Sci Reports 5:16643 (2015).
  6. Kaliannan K et al. “A host-microbiome interaction mediates the opposing effects f omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids on metabolic endotoxemia.”  Sci Reports 5:112276 (2015).
  7. Roopchand DE et al. “Dietary polyphenols promote growth of gut bacterium Akkermansia muninphila and attenuate high-fat diet-induced metabolic syndrome.”  Diabetes 64:2847-2858 (2015).
  8. Masumoto S et al. “Non-absorbable apple procyandian prevent obesity associated with gut microbial and metabolomics changes.” Sci Reports 6:31208 (2016).

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About Dr. Barry Sears

Dr. Barry Sears is a leading authority on the impact of the diet on hormonal response, genetic expression, and inflammation. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his research efforts over the past 45 years to the study of lipids. He has published 40 scientific articles and holds 14 U.S. patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease. He has also written 14 books, including the New York Times #1 best-seller "The Zone". His books have sold more than 6 million copies in the U.S. and have been translated into 22 different languages.



    Dr. Sears. many thanks for the great work with the Zone Diet.

    3 months months ago I was admitted to hospital with cellulitis in my lower leg. I spent 5 days fighting the infection and while there the doctors diagnosed Type-2 diabetes, very high blood sugars 250+ A1C of 8 and very high blood pressure. I weighted 322 lbs and was not taking any serious exercise.

    I just got my latest blood work results today and my A1C is now at 5.5.

    I have used the Zone selectively over the years but never followed it for a sustained period. On my release from hospital I immediately resolved to make the changes necessary to avoid a life of medications and ill health. 3 months later I have shed 60 lbs, my daily average blood sugars are now in the low 100’s and blood pressure is perfect. Within a week of getting into the Zone I was able to drop the insulin and blood pressure meds I had been prescribed. In addition to the Zone diet I now also exercise at least 5 days at week with a vigorous cardio and weight training regime.

    Many thanks!

  2. Desmond M. Kahn, Ph.D.

    Dr. Sears, I have been following your suggestions for improving diet for health for years. However, lately I have become aware of a challenge posed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman and his marshaling of evidence that consumption of animal products causes cancer. International cancer groups seem to support that idea. Fuhrman describes diets that obtain 30% of calories from animal products as high in protein, but regardless of the cutoff for that label, he seems to show strong evidence that animal protein is not a good thing. Can you help people like myself sort through these issues?

    • Barry Sears

      What causes cancer is not animal protein products, but a dysregulation of hormonal control systems that control cellular growth coupled with increased inflammation. What defines a high-protein diet is the absolute amount of protein not the percentage in the overall diet. Furthermore, there is little difference between animal and plant protein (other than differences in essential amino acid composition). In 2000, I wrote a book, The Soy Zone, that demonstrates a purely vegan Zone Diet can be constructed to provide the such a necessary hormonal balance for optimal wellness.

      What is important is the balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat to control hormonal responses along with the balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids that regulate inflammation. This requires a protein-adequate, moderate-carbohydrate, and low-fat diet that is low in omega-6 and saturated fats. Much of these concepts are discussed in my most recent book, The Mediterranean Zone, and enhanced in my next book, Understanding the Zone.

      • Desmond M. Kahn, Ph.D.

        Thanks for your response. I read it with interest. Fuhrman in his new book makes the claim that diets high in animal protein increase the body’s production of IGF-1; in turn high levels of that hormone foster cancer. He cites research to this effect. He also claims that plant protein does not raise IGF-1 levels. For example, ten observational studies and others find a correlation between milk product intake and IGF-1 levels. Levine et al. 2014 found that people with 20 % or more protein had a 4-fold increase in cancer death and a 75% increase in total mortality over 18 years, and the damage was solely related to animal protein, as Fuhrman reported it. That 20% protein is well below the Zone recommendation, isn’t it? Also, I think the China Project found a link between animal protein intake and mortality.

    • Barry Sears

      It is not IGF-1 that is the cause of cancer, but increased levels of mTOR, a gene transcription factor that is responsible for muscle growth, but also can stimulate tumor growth. Only one amino acid, leucine, can stimulate mTOR activity. Leucine is also an essential amino acid that must be present in the human diet. That amino acid is rich in dairy products and lower in vegetable protein. Therefore a diet low in leucine will decrease both muscle mass (creating sacropenia) and cancer. Neither one is good for long-term health.

      However, if one wishes to pursue a healthy diet, then I would recommend an anti-inflammatory diet with adequate levels of protein. I wrote a complete book, The Soy Zone, on this subject. You still need adequate protein (30% of total calories) to low-glycemic carbs to stimulate glucagon to control blood sugar levels and and reduce inflammation that is even more powerful than reducing mTOR. You also have to dramatically restrict omega-6 and saturated fats that also promote inflammation.

      However, mTOR can also be inhibited by increased production of AMP kinase. This enzyme is stimulated by the increased polyphenols in the diet. Following the dietary balance of the Zone Diet will provide those polyphenols, but for maximum benefits you will also probably need addition supplementation.

    • Sharon

      Desmond take everything that Dr. Joel Fuhrman says with a grain of salt. He doesn’t want you to eat animals because he is heavily involved with PETA. He is Vegan. Dr. Sears way of eating is the best.

  3. Shelley

    I have been involved in many different diet programs asks have found the ones that offer community support through social media to be the most effective for me…is there any plan on forming a Facebook group?

    • Barry Sears

      We will look into developing a discussion group on so that we can monitor the advice being communicated. Incorrect dietary advice even with the best intentions will always undermine the best dietary program.

  4. RC

    What do you think about centrophenoxine and rhodiola for memory issues in elderly? Right now my mum is on Omega and have just ordered MacquiRX. I am watching a series of lectures that are recommending these as supplements and wondered what your opinion is on this.
    Thank you for ALL the great work you are doing!

    • Barry Sears

      Neither nutritional supplement has much of a clinical track record. Memory loss is primarily due to increased neuroinflammation. The best “drug” for reducing neuroinflammation is high-dose omega-3 fatty acids to accelerate the resolution response in the brain. That has significant clinical support.

    • rc

      Thank you so much for your answer. The neurologist my mum is seeing is suggesting perhaps Aricept for her cognitive issues. So far she is only showing mild cognitive issues. What is your take on Aricept? I have seen improvement with the Omega and polyphenols. Thanks for all the information you get out to public.

  5. Kendall

    I’m relatively new to the zone diet (about 8mo) and have seen tremendous results. As school has started, my meal quality and frequency have become more challenging. One situation I have been encountering lately is my meal being broken up, that is, I might eat 3 blocks protein, 2 blocks carb, 3 blocks fat and then the remaining 1 block of carb between 1-2hours after (for example).

    My question is, is there a time limit for consuming a meal? Does everything need to be eaten at the same time?

    Thank you,

    • Barry Sears

      Eating small meals throughout the day is an excellent strategy to maintain balanced hormonal levels in the brain, gut, and blood. Just try to make sure that each meal has the appropriate balance of protein, carbohydrate, and fat.

  6. Joan Bolton

    I have a family member who suffers from gout and extremely high triglycerides. What book/books would you recommend reading in order to specifically address these conditions?

    • Dr. Barry Sears

      The high triglyceride levels are a consequence of insulin resistance in the liver. A strict Zone Diet will reduce that insulin resistance. By supplementing with EPA and DHA will further reduce the triglycerides and also lower the inflammatory impact of the gout. The amount of EPA and DHA required can be adjusted by the AA/EPA ratio in the blood to be between 1.5 and 3 as in the Japanese population.

  7. RC

    Which polyphenol supplement is good for an elderly person who does not eat a lot of veggies and has memory issues. Should it be the MaquiRX or the Polyphenol RX. Right now she is taking the PolyphenolRX and Omega Supplements. Just did not know if she is on right formula. Took the Zone Lab blood test and she came back “good range” but could be better. Have another kit to take in 6 mos from now for her.

    • Dr. Barry Sears

      I would recommend the MaquiRx as it is the most absorbable of any polyphenol and therefore more likely to stimulate the SIRT-1 gene to increase the production of AMP kinase that acts as the master switching for metabolism. One of the benefits of AMP kinase is the reduction of inflammation. Getting the AA/EPA ratio is into the appropriate range is an even more powerful dietary approach.


    Is there a difference between supplementation with DGLA versus supplementation with GLA in regard to the likelihood of each getting further metabolized into arachidonic acid?

  9. Marcia

    I appreciate your dietary work to reduce inflammation, HLD, insulin resistance. We live in a rural food desert and would benefit from your comments on using frozen, dried foods. Your recipes call for fresh fruit and vegetables and we need to consider using what we grow in our garden and store for the 9 months of the year when we only access fresh fruits and vegetables about once a month. Any suggestions will be helpful as we undertake better portion control and going the last distance to remove fruit/veg sugars, legumes and carbs from the diet.

    • Barry Sears

      With the correct freezing techniques, frozen fruits and vegetables are the ideal solution to have year-round access to them.

  10. Barry Sears

    I consider DGLA one of the most fascinating molecules I have ever worked with over the past 40 years. It is also the most challenging. Making it is easy. Keeping it from being further metabolized into arachidonic acid is the real challenge.

    The article that you cited is very similar to one published more than 35 years ago (Stone KJ, Willis AL, Hurt M, Kirtland SJ, Kernoff PBA, and McNichol GF. “The metabolism of dihomo gamma linolenic acid in man,” Lipids 14: 174-180 (1979)) that started my interest in DGLA.

    • Zack

      Is there a difference between supplementation with DGLA versus supplementation with GLA in regard to the likelihood of each getting further metabolized into arachidonic acid?

  11. karen owens

    Dr Sears is the best of the best. He saved me from diabetes for last 10 years..Am still borderline prediabetic..I weigh every serving of animal protein and have been on the Zone diet all this time.

    Thanks Dr Sears for your life saving diet which not only prevents diabetes but for those with diabetes prevents ore severe manifestation of the disease.
    Kind regards,
    Karen Owens


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